JULY 28, 2020
We, Katie and Ava, are rising high school seniors interning with the iCivics curriculum team this summer. We are both passionate about civic education and elections, as well as the power they hold in our country. Learning about elections (local and federal!) and their impact is extremely important to us, because it will inform how civically engaged we are as adults.
Even though we will not be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election, the iCivics resources we've been digging into this summer have been helping us prepare so we can fully understand the importance of our voice by the time we can vote. We have both found that is powerful to learn about how our government works during the general election, and see how what we have learned applies to real life.
The road to the election has been and will continue to be divisive and students have strong opinions, so we hope teachers prioritize teaching their students about our election process and the power of their vote this year. iCivics has tons of election resources that are informative, nonpartisan, and help students tackle important questions such as: Will I vote? Am I registered? How do I prepare before I vote in an election?
Below are the top five games and lesson plans we would recommend teachers use to teach the election virtually or in-person this year.
Game: Win The White House
Time to Play: 40-60 mins
Language: English or Spanish
Age: Students can pick from Lower, Middle, or High School
Support: English Language Learners
Win The White House is a fun game that walks students through the complicated, difficult, and expensive campaigns that lead up to our November elections. It introduces students to our election cycle, campaign finances, the Electoral College, and the power of the media.
As a Presidential candidate, students select a name, party, home state, Vice President, and issues they are willing to fight for. Then, they go through the election cycle week-by-week and face the challenges of fundraising and gaining support. This game is an efficient way to introduce many complicated topics regarding the 2020 election. The competitive nature of the game makes critical thinking and learning fun for students. The Extension Pack that is used both before and after game play explains these topics using vocabulary and diagrams.
Ava’s Review: In my opinion, Win The White House is one of iCivics' most exciting games for students. It is super engaging and has helped me think critically about the election cycle and my personal views. Initially, when I chose my platform for my campaign I was only thinking about my beliefs and priorities. However, to be able to gain support of the other party I needed to think about issues that they cared about. During a polarized time it is good to be able to open our minds to ideas we don’t agree with. This game encourages students to think about both parties, their views, and how to bridge the gap between parties.
Game: Cast Your Vote
Time to Play: 40-60 mins
Language: English or Spanish
Age: Middle or High School
Support: English Language Learners and students with visual or mobile impairments
Cast Your Vote focuses local politics and elections, but the critical-thinking skills that students take away from it can be applied to national elections. It introduces students to the importance of being informed and engaged voters. While most students have been told about the importance of voting, most haven’t experienced it first-hand. This game does exactly that in a more convincing way than solely through lectures.
Students’ characters are citizens who start out completely uninformed and unprepared voting in the primary elections, essentially choosing a random candidate. After “weeks” of figuring out their priorities, researching, analyzing, attending town hall debates, and getting to know the candidates and propositions, they vote in the general election as educated and engaged citizens. This demonstrates the value of becoming educated in order to make informed decisions. The Extension Pack for this game explains concepts and vocabulary that may be new to students and turns many parts of the game into teachable moments.
Katie’s Review: As a student myself, the first-hand “voting” experience is what makes this game so unique and influential. I believe that being an informed voter is essential to participating in our government, and I love how this game approaches this concept. Voting in the general election was my favorite part of the game because I felt confident, proud, and accomplished after comprehensively educating myself. I also loved having copious notes from my research and town halls to back up my voting choices.
Lesson Plan: Voting Matters
Time to Complete: 20-40 mins
Age: Middle School
Many students cannot vote, and they may not be able to for many years, but registering and learning why their vote does matter should start early. Registering and pre-registering can be confusing, but this sheet will walk students through the process so they know what information to get. The excitement to vote should start young so as students grow up they continue to be engaged until they can finally vote. Voting is not the only way to get involved, but it does have a huge impact. Democracy is only upheld if the citizens vote and engage, and this resource teaches students that if they want to have a say in their government, they should vote.
Ava’s Review: I am still too young to vote, but I do believe that my civic education throughout middle and high school has helped me realize the impact of voting. I love Voting Matters because it is not just telling students why they should vote, it is showing them a path to be engaged with their government.
Lesson Plan: Political Debate Guide
Time: 20-40 minutes
Age: Middle School
This resource makes political debates, which can be dense and divisive, approachable for students. It allows them to connect what they care about to the politicians involved in the debate. It provides strong preparatory resources, a well-organized area for notes during the debate, and a plethora of reflection possibilities after the debate. Students will be more than prepared to discuss and analyze the debate in class afterwards.
Katie’s Review: I follow along with most major debates. Even as a high school senior interested in the government and politics, they can seem a bit daunting. I loved the structure of this resource and the personal connection aspect. I am looking forward to using this guide to keep me focused on major takeaways during the presidential debates this fall!
Resource/Lesson Plan: Election Night Tracker
Time to Complete: N/A
Age: Middle School or High School
Election night can be crazy and overwhelming for many students who have trouble understanding the influx of numbers and predictions coming at them. On November 3, 2020, encourage your students to follow along with this worksheet. Due to the dangers of COVID-19 and gathering in large groups at polling places, mail-in ballots will be more prevalent in many states so the data may come in more slowly, but this will still help keep track of what states are too close to call.
Ava’s Review: I always stay up late to watch the votes coming in on election night, but the information can still be hard to follow. This worksheet helps break down the chaos so students can comprehend and organize the information in a visual way. I will definitely use this worksheet on election night to make sure I am following along!
Controversial elections are always hard to teach, but these five resources will hopefully make it a little easier for teachers. The goal of these resources is to give an overview of the election process, while also guiding students through some of the more complex topics and events. If you want more great iCivics election resources, you can head over to the Election Headquarters!
Co-Authored by iCivics' Interns, Ava Borchers & Katie Sandhu